Walk, Eat, Sleep, Repeat, Continued – Fairview to Tyler Bend and a New Hiking Partner

We did not want to lose momentum and conditioning from our first two outings and were anxious to get back on the trail. We selected January 16-20 to finish our third leg of the trail to complete the whole 180 miles of the Ozark Highlands Trail.   To read about our eleven days of hiking the first 125 miles go to Walk, Eat Sleep, Repeat.

Packing was much easier for this outing because my third supply bag was still together and ready to go.  My gear arrangements from the previous two legs of the hike were still fresh on my mind.  One new addition was a zero-degree sleeping bag.  I would find that this bag worked well as a blanket until temperatures got down into the mid-twenties.  Then it was time to crawl in and zip up!

We were anticipating some of the best hiking weather yet and wouldn’t be disappointed.  We had temperatures from the mid twenties to the 60s.  The following layers and a dry bag with base layers have kept me comfortable and safe in any conditions I’ve faced here in Arkansas.

Warm layers

Warm layers

L to R top: Food bag, cook pot, Esbit stove, cup L to R bottom: sleeping bag, mattress, tent poles and tent.

L to R top: Food bag, cook pot, Esbit stove, cup
L to R bottom: sleeping bag, mattress, tent poles and tent.

We arranged a shuttle with Mark at Haggarsville Grocery and planned to come off of the trail between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. on Monday, January 20th.

Moonset from Fairview Campground.

Moonset from Fairview Campground.

We camped at Fairview Campground so we could get an early start the next morning.  This moonset seemed to promise good travels.  I slept in the back of my Jeep in my 20-degree bag so my backpack would be undisturbed and organized for the trip.  It felt good to cross Highway 7 the next morning heading east.  This would be the last paved road we crossed for the next fifty miles.

Crossing Richland Creek at the CCC Camp

Crossing Richland Creek at the CCC Camp

Richland Creek drainage next to the CCC Campground.

Richland Creek drainage next to the CCC Campground.

Creek crossings were easy but looking at remnants of earlier snow while standing in a cold mountain creek will numb your feet within seconds.

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We were beginning to fear that water and a campsite would not appear on our second night but this spot didn’t disappoint.  We enjoyed a nice view and one of our coldest nights of the trip.  I found that by slipping my water pouches under the edge of my tent floor I could avoid having frozen water the next morning.

New Hiking Partner:  A third hiking partner joined us on our first night out.  We were setting up camp at mile 138 when an emaciated black lab appeared.  We ignored her in hopes that she would reunite with her owners but the next day she quietly followed us for fourteen miles.  At the end of that day we gave in and shared some of our beef and turkey jerky.  These were limited rations because neither of us packed much extra food. Bob said, “If we’d known we’d have a dog, we would have packed some Alpo.”

This black lab demonstrated good outdoor skills as she curled up in a nest of leaves next to a log. The following morning we feared we were going to witness the death of this dog but she persevered and continued mile after mile with only limited rations from our small surplus of food.

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Later in our trip our junior hiking partner discovered the joys of avoiding cold conduction from the ground by sleeping on a foam sleeping pad.  Though she was skin and bones, we witnessed an improvement in her energy even with limited food.  We were amazed by her persistence on the trail and at creek crossings.  She was committed to following us for the 40+ miles to Tyler Bend!  We wondered if she would last.

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Historic structures along the Buffalo River

Historic structures along the Buffalo River

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A number of historic structures can be found along the trail in the Buffalo River section of the OHT.  These can be so much fun to explore that it is sometimes difficult to maintain forward progress in hiking.

Breakfast and coffee in bed.

Breakfast and coffee in bed.

I chose to prepare my oatmeal and coffee in bed on this coldest morning of our trip.  It is important to set the Esbit stove away from any tent surface to avoid fire hazard.  Never burn a stove inside of your tent unless you’re wanting to end your outing early or have a death wish.

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This sign at the beginning of the last four miles of the 165-mile original trail made the distance seem more real.  We would complete the 165 miles, cross Richland Creek and continue fifteen more miles to complete the present 180 miles of the OHT on Monday, January 20th.  We had to hike upstream for a short distance to find a wide place on Richland to cross since it is pretty deep as it draws closer to the Buffalo River.  We were glad not to be crossing the Buffalo because it looked deep as in over our head deep.  If we were ending our trip here at Woolum a Buffalo River crossing would have been necessary.

A third hiker joined our group around mile 138.

We took turns staying with our new hiking partner while the other hiked up the Narrs (Narrows) next to the Buffalo River.  This was my first time to climb up on this sidewalk in the sky.  It was a thrill to finally experience this beautiful and unique geological feature of our state.

The Narrs, a sidewalk in the sky.

The Narrs, a sidewalk in the sky.

Looking toward the southeast side of the Narrs

Looking toward the southeast side of the Narrs

Looking down the northwest side of the Narrs toward Skull Bluff.

Looking down the northwest side of the Narrs toward Skull Bluff.

Moderately confused.

Moderately confused.

We weren’t lost, just a little confused for an hour or so…

We carefully followed yellow horse trail blazes but when those blazes led us to a river crossing we knew something was wrong.  We filtered water and began to backtrack in hopes of correcting our mistake.   We started feeling a whole lot better when our revised route led us across Calf Creek and then back into the woods.  We were relieved to find this sign indicating we were right where we wanted to be!

A sign was needed on the road where the trail branched off to Grinders Ferry. One white blaze there would have kept us on the OHT route but as it turned out we saw some beautiful open fields and needed to replenish our water anyway.

Collier Homestead

Collier Homestead

On our last night we camped in a cedar grove not far from the Collier Homestead.  Mr and Mrs. Collier and their children began to homestead this property in 1928 with 15-cents to their name.  They grew a variety of crops, worked as hunting and fishing guides and raised their family off of the land through hard work and grit.

Fireplace in Collier Homestead

Fireplace in Collier Homestead

Remnants of insulation on a wall of the Collier Homestead.

Remnants of insulation on a wall of the Collier Homestead.

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We were disappointed that the visitor center was closed due water damage repairs.  We were looking forward to reading more about the area while waiting on our shuttle.  A sign on the door said it would be open January 21st.  Joey, a UPS driver exercising on his lunch break, shared his cell phone so we could confirm our arrival with our shuttle.  We enjoyed sharing the story of our third hiking partner with him.

Joey taking a break from his lunch break workout.

Joey taking a break from his lunch break workout.

Buffalo River at Tyler Bend

Buffalo River at Tyler Bend

It felt good to splash cold Buffalo River water on my face and arms while waiting for our shuttle.  Hiking 180 miles of the Ozark Highlands Trail had been everything I’d hoped and more.  All expectations were exceeded which is typical of backpacking experiences.  I was looking forward to a warm shower and my wife’s wonderful meals but I was also beginning to plot my next long hike.  Where to go from here? So many trails and so little time…

Update on Hiker, our third travel partner: 

Hiker is currently my guest.  I’m enjoying watching her gain strength with some moderate but regular nutrition.  She is gentle with young children and has good manners.  The only time she appears aggressive is when she glides through the woods at high rates of speed.  Here’s a post four months following her adoption after she’s logged some serious miles: What Makes Hiker a Good Trail Partner?

We had several great suggestions for names.  I went with Hiker since the sound of this word projects well in the woods and it describes one of her strongest attributes.

The following pictures show Hiker’s progress beginning at Tyler Bend and the end of her OHT hike.  She was pretty exhausted.

Hiker on January 20th after completing 40+ miles on the OHT with limited rations.

Hiker on January 20th after completing 40+ miles on the OHT with limited rations.

Hiker exploring Little Frog Bayou on the Lake Alma Trail.

Hiker exploring Little Frog Bayou on the Lake Alma Trail.

These pictures were taken on Hiker’s first four-mile hike around Lake Alma just five days following her 40+mile trek after being abandoned and near starvation on the Ozark Highlands Trail.  She was looking and feeling much better after her visit to Dr. Green at the Alma Animal Clinic.

Hiker picking her route down a bluff portion of the Lake Alma Trail.

Hiker picking her route down a bluff portion of the Lake Alma Trail.

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Hiker on February 3rd having gained about 7 pounds from January 20th.

Hiker crossing a bridge on the Lake Alma Trail on February 3rd, fourteen days after her arrival in Alma. She was enjoying the snow and managed to acquire a snow-beard from playing as she hiked.

Hiker on February 22, 2014

Hiker on February 22, 2014

Hiker after thirty-two days in Alma.  She’s stronger than ever and loves to travel by trail!

Hiker on March 18th, carrying her own food and stronger than ever.

Hiker on March 18th, carrying her own food and stronger than ever.

Crossing Little Frog Bayou with two days of dog food in her backpack.

Crossing Little Frog Bayou with two days of dog food in her backpack.

 

Hiker's March 24-25 trip on the Shores Lake, White Rock Mountain Loop, and Salt Fork Creek.

Hiker’s March 24-25 trip on the Shores Lake, White Rock Mountain Loop, and Salt Fork Creek.

 

Thru Hike patch earned for hiking the first 165-miles of the OHT.

Thru Hike patch earned for hiking the first 165-miles of the OHT.

Buffalo River Trail from Boxley to Pruitt in “Typical” Arkansas Weather

Buffalo River from the trail.

Buffalo River from the trail.

Heat, cold, rain, fog, and sometimes sunny skies: Arkansas dished up its typical buffet of weather for our four-day hike on the Buffalo River Trail.

We were originally scheduled to be a group of five hikers, but  between chest colds, recent knee surgeries, family plans, and concerns about the weather, our numbers declined to two.  When I planned the trip, I’d decided that I would gladly do this one solo if necessary so it was a go no matter what.  Bob, who’d hiked this area extensively, and I were anxious to hit the trail.

We used the Buffalo Outdoor Center shuttle service in Ponca, which gets you out on the trail quicker.  They would drive my Jeep to the Pruitt Trailhead (Hwy 7) prior to our arrival at the end of our four days.  We piled into Bob’s vehicle for the short drive to the Boxley Trailhead (Hwy 21).

I was excited about doing the whole 37-mile Buffalo River Trail in one outing, having only done sections in the past.  The plan was to camp three nights avoiding the river campgrounds.

Day 1 (March 16)

We got started around 9:30 a.m. with weather that was sunny and cool.  As the day progressed, it warmed up and presented some challenges since this was our first warm weather hiking of the season.  We passed a small spring that was just beautiful.  It was one of those rare spots where you would feel confident to dip your cup into the cool water and take a swig without worrying about dangerous microorganisms.  Better to be safe than sorry and the filter doesn’t add anything to the water.

Later, we passed Pearly Springs which was another special place to explore.  Pictures were difficult due to the bright sun but the view from the top of the Pearly Springs Waterfall was a treat.   A smokehouse and storage building were located close to the spring.  According to Ken Smith’s Buffalo River Handbook, Pearl Vilines lived up the hill from the spring in the early 1900s and could drop a bucked into the spring from her front porch.

Pearly Springs Waterfall

Pearly Springs Waterfall

Pearly Spring Smokehouse

Pearly Spring Smokehouse

We camped on a ridge close to Big Hollow.  A small creek drainage had some nice cool water.  I dropped my melted Snickers bar into the creek so it would be ready for desert.

Snickers bar cooling in a small stream.

Snickers bar cooling in a small stream.

Supper was boiled potatoes followed by pasta and sauce that I’d dehydrated, but not used, for a trip in December.  Tasted great even after three months of storage.

Dehydrated rotini and marinara sauce

Dehydrated rotini and marinara sauce

Enjoyed some reading as the sun slowly descended, revealing a bright moon and stars.  This was a no-rain-fly night for sure.   As I woke the next morning I felt a light mist of icy crystals.  A fog had enveloped the ridge.  I hopped up and prepared my first cup of coffee.  A freshly ground cup never tasted as good as that Taster’s Choice instant made with water from an Ozark stream!  After oatmeal and another cup of coffee, we were back on the trail.

Day 2

We found that Indian Creek and Bear Creek were both dry.  I thought they would have water with recent rains but the thirsty ground must have soaked it up.  We made a detour to Kyles Landing to get water from the campground or river. The water was on so we filled up and hiked past Bear Creek, climbing to a nice ridge where we camped. This was a good workout at the end of a long day because we each carried 5-7 extra pounds of water at this point.

Supper was boiled potatoes followed by broccoli-cheese soup.  Bob said my trail name should be Tater since I always throw a few red or gold potatoes into the pack.    Several worse trail names come to mind so Tater it is.  Those potatoes are easy to pack, prepare, and they taste great at the end of a long day’s hike.

Home next to the Buffalo River.

Home next to the Buffalo River.

It was a cool and foggy evening so we turned in around 6:00 p.m.  After a little reading I dozed off, waking briefly at 10:30 p.m.  I then continued with a good night’s sleep until 7:00 the next morning.  When have I ever slept for twelve hours?  Coffee that morning was not the best due to the park service treated water.  I was looking forward to better coffee the next morning when we were once again treating our own stream water without the chorine taste.

Day 3

Walking along the ridges watching occasional canoes pass, we contemplated how different this area might have been if not for Neil Compton and many other advocates for the Buffalo National River.  It might well have been just another lake among many in Arkansas.

View of the river through cracked bluffs along the trail.

View of the river through cracked bluffs along the trail.

One of the visual gems so easily missed along the BRT

One of the visual gems so easily missed along the BRT

Approaching the Parker-Hickman site.

Approaching the Parker-Hickman site.

Parker-Hickman cabin

Parker-Hickman cabin

The trail passes the oldest known structure along the Buffalo River.  Built by Alvin and Greenberry Parker between 1847 and 1849, the structure is now known as the Parker-Hickman cabin because it was occupied by the Hickman family from 1912 to 1978.

Newspapers and magazines were used to cover the inner walls and some print can still be read.   Mud and wood pieces were used to fill between some of the large timbers.  The cabin was skillfully built with precisely cut half-dovetailed log corner joints (Buffalo River Handbook by Ken Smith).

Detail of an inner wall of the Parker-Hickman cabin

Detail of an inner wall of the Parker-Hickman cabin

Detail of an inner wall of the Parker-Hickman cabin showing an excerpt from Home Life Magazine

Detail of an inner wall of the Parker-Hickman cabin showing an excerpt from Home Life Magazine

We camped a couple of miles past Cedar Grove Picnic Area next to a little oxbow off of the river. Nice water and a small flat spot for tents.  Several horse riders passed by that evening heading toward the Ozark Campground a couple of miles away.  The sounds of owls hooting, coyotes howling, deer feeding, and turkeys gobbling filled the night but did not disturb sleep.

Day 4

We had frost on the rainflies and some ice in water bottles when we woke the next morning.  It was to be a cool and sunny hike out.   A highlight on that last day was the spring-fed pond between Ozark CG and Pruitt TH.  I remembered the pond from a few years ago but did not remember how beautiful the spring was.  There were dark green watercress growing close by.  We found ourselves wondering about the people who built the small pond just below this spring and what their lives might have been like.

Small clear spring with watercress

Small clear spring with watercress

On the last mile of the trail while noticing wildflowers beginning to peek out from under the leaves, I found myself thinking about the next season I would target for a Buffalo River hike.  I’ve only seen a fraction of its beauty.

Moss-covered limestone maze similar to many that surround portions of the Buffalo River Trail.

Moss-covered limestone maze similar to many that surround portions of the Buffalo River Trail.

The perfect ending for our four-day trek was a meal at the Ozark Cafe in Jasper.  The food is good and they’re used to serving grungy hikers and floaters coming out of the Buffalo River area.

Bob at the Ozark Cafe in Jasper

Bob at the Ozark Cafe in Jasper